The Old Fourth


4th of july Fourth of july Fourth of july quotes 4th of july fireworks Happy independence day Happy independence day wishes History of Independence Day History of 4th of july All about fourth of july Independence Day of America History of America What happen on 4th of july

“Happy Fourth of July!” Americans have said to each other for 240 years.  Ever wonder what the really early celebrations were like?  I have learned about a few in particular while researching other projects: one in Boston and the others in Indiana.  They were roughly fifty years after the Revolutionary War, about the same space in time the Viet Nam War is behind us now.

 A few years ago I sat at a table in the Pierpont Morgan Library in Manhattan looking for information about a boyhood friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s.  I had a lead that his mother’s papers were there.  While I didn’t find a lot about the boy named Freddie, I did stumble onto some very early letters written to and from his ancestors, particularly one dated July 20, 1820.

J.M. Thun, of Boston, was writing to Mary P. Cady, of Plainfield, Connecticut.  Miss Thun told of fireworks on the common in the evening, with 20,000 ladies and gentlemen present (half the population of the city at the time).  She wished her friend could “participate in the pleasure which I received in witnessing such a spectacle.”

Also in the letter she asked if the minister in Mary’s church was engaged yet.  “Ministers, you know, are in a greater hurry to be married than anyone else…If he said one girl was good, a second lovely, and a third precious it is evident he is in love with someone…”

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A little while after that great display of fireworks on the new country’s northeastern coast, there were some other Independence Day celebrations I’ve come to know.  As an interpreter at the Historic Forks of the Wabash I try to bring the Wabash and Erie Canal days to life for fourth graders on field trips.

On July 4, 1835 the canal between Huntington and Fort Wayne officially opened.  It was big news.  At 5 mph, a new, superfast horse-drawn packet was taking citizens from both cities on its first trip.  The next year, as more of the waterway was finished, they repeated the Independence Day party.  The boat Indiana transported passengers from town to town, with dancing and a little drinking of “good whiskey” on board.  Belles representing the states marched in a great parade, with Hugh McCulloch, secretary of the Treasury under three presidents, the guest speaker.

When the Wabash and Erie Canal opened, Indians still lived in the area.  But the boats that traversed it would be the beginning of the Miami people’s sad journey west in a few years.

The people of Fort Wayne celebrated the connection of the canal to Lake Erie on July 4, 1842.  A cannon captured from the British in the War of 1812 greeted guests, who included General Lewis Cass.   He’d been governor of the Michigan Territory and U.S. Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson, and would be the Democratic nominee for president in another six years.  Cass stepped off the boat onto the gangplank, acknowledging cheers and applause — and fell right into four feet of water.

A large public banquet was served in the evening.

This is an artist’s depiction of the first day of the Erie Canal, but it fits!

There were not many more years to celebrate canal side, however, since the steam locomotive rendered its way of traveling and transporting goods obsolete.

Boat rides.  Fireworks.  Parades and dinners.  Some summer fun, designed around the most important day in our country’s history, remains constant.  In the middle of your festivity, remember sacrifices others have made that we may have a unified, peaceful day.

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Information for this blog from the Allen County Public Library, “Fort Wayne on the Old Canal,” article from the University of Illinois at Urbana; and the Pierpont Morgan Library, Folder 212.590.0315, Papers of Maria Molestina.

Kick the Can


“Kick the Can” is a poignant episode from the original Twilight Zone television series.  I’ve come to know several of the sci-fi plots retrospectively as they’re shown on New Year’s Eve, but this one I remember seeing when it first aired in the early 60’s.

The setting is a rest home where old friends, relegated to finish their lives in rocking chairs on a porch and forgotten by most, look back on what it was like to be young.  One night some of them steal outside, find a can, and kick it around; we hear the voices of children coming from the dark grassy yard beyond the house.  The next night one man tries to get his friend to join them, but he refuses, and most of the residents disappear.  Too late the friend glimpses him as a boy, who looks up for a moment and runs off.

When I saw it all those years ago, I felt so sorry for the old man who was left behind.  He missed his chance.  Now that I’m closer to his age, I think: I’m still the kid I was.  Nobody can make me older than I want to be.  Of course, the body doesn’t cooperate as well as it used to, but I can still make a lot of choices which lead to childlike happiness.

Interacting with grandchildren, volunteering in public school and church classrooms, and playing host to fourth graders at a local history museum give me energy,  There’s nothing like sharing a good laugh with a bunch of kids.  That’s probably what I miss most about day to day residence in a classroom.

I enjoy observing them, listening and talking to them, and asking questions of them.  I’m not ashamed to say I often revisit books I read in school.  I very much like to read aloud to elementary classes —  it reinforces that children’s literature is still as good, the authors are just as wise and introspective, and the illustrations as pleasing as they ever were.

I don’t wish for going back to the time when we were young.  I pay bills and taxes and do what I can about about peace, poverty, and the environment.  But youth and its enthusiasm are all around us.  It’s not necessary to go out in the yard and kick the can to find them.

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By the way, there are several books about the series, but highly recommended on Amazon is the one below.  I always felt there was a companion to watch the program with…I just didn’t realize it was on paper (TZ theme music).



Room for Learning, Part 2


Here are some glimpses from inside the Collins Schoolhouse on SR 120 in northeastern Indiana.  After being used from 1877 to 1943, it stood vacant for 20 years.  Then June Collins began its restoration.


More desks fill the room now than when it was operating, to accomodate the number of students who come on tours.  Miss Collins’s nieces and nephews say there used to be an open space between the two sides, where activities and games took place.


“It’s not the books that are on the shelves, but what the teachers are, themselves,” according to an old poem.  Visitors here see an array of vintage books.


The original Google: a large dictionary sat on a stand for students to reference.


Hornbooks, which preceded textbooks, displayed the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer.  They were covered with a thin layer of cow horn to protect the surface.


The school’s weathervane now overlooks its interior.


The daily schedule was all about reading!



You could get a drink of water from the stoneware cooler, or lunch from your tin pail.  For the other kind of break, the privy was out back and remains there, still fully functional.


Photo of students in first through eighth grades in the school’s heyday.


A complete record of teachers of the school is posted on a wall.


Miss Collins hit the nail on the head.  Thank a teacher for where you are today!


The Collins School is open to the public on Sundays 2 to 5 p.m. during the summer beginning June 5.  A traditional ice cream social will take place there on July 31.

Room for Learning, Part 1


In the last half of the Nineteenth Century and beginning of the Twentieth, many pupils were educated in a one-room building where eight grades all learned together.  For some it was the place their school days began and ended.


While some of the iconic structures have been torn down and others repurposed as homes or businesses, a few have been made into living history museums.  The Collins School in Steuben County is one.  It rests in a green grove of trees, across from a cornfield on State Road 120.


The brick schoolhouse was built in 1877.  It succeeded a log structure which remained on the property for many years.


To whom do we owe gratitude for its restoration?  Well, it was someone I think would be proud I used the object pronoun in that last sentence.  Her name was June Collins.  Miss Collins’s family owns the property on which the school sits.

She was a pupil here and a teacher here, at the beginning of her long career in 1939.  She moved on to work in town schools with multiple rooms (including my sister’s second grade class).  When the old building was auctioned, Miss Collins bought it, and with the help of family, colleagues, and former charges, fixed it up.  She lovingly filled it with artifacts from days gone by.


June Collins herself was its first tour guide.  Today her great-nieces and nephews carry on, during June, July, and August on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.  Next week I’ll show you what this room for learning offers visitors who continue to climb its worn steps.







More Noise

When primaries wind down, campaigns shift to political party conventions of the summer.  Americans running for office will make noise and more noise, positive for themselves and negative for their opponents.  Name-calling and rumors are nothing new.  But perhaps they are more hard to ignore in our time because of the many and diverse kinds of media, and it is harder to decipher the truth.  Unless you’re up in the mountains off the grid (which often sounds superlative) you’re probably not going to avoid the spin.

When Aaron Burr fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel of 1804, it was after a dozen years of high profile conflict.  Like Thomas Jefferson, Burr was a Democrat-Republican.  Then he ran for the governor of New York as an independent, and Hamilton, the Federalist, set out to thwart the campaign.  His mistrust of the candidate was great.

The two were still insulting each other as Burr, now Vice President, challenged Hamilton to a duel.  A meeting of seconds was not successful.  At the chosen site in New Jersey, Hamilton was said to have fired prematurely; however moments later it was he who was wounded, and died the next day.  Burr was arrested but never tried for murder.  He was later tried and acquitted for treason and his final years were spent in obscurity.

In this 1834 cartoon, Kentucky senator Henry Clay tries to sew Andrew Jackson’s mouth shut to stop his talk of ending the Bank of the United States.  Jackson believed its purpose was to benefit the wealthy.  He had conflicts with many and was never afraid to address them directly.

Ten years earlier, Old Hickory had won more popular and electoral votes for the presidency than John Quincy Adams, but lost in the House of Representatives with the help of – Henry Clay.  In the 1828 election, which Jackson won, his opponents publicized Rachel Jackson as a bigamist and she literally died of humiliation before her husband was inaugurated.  This naturally added more fuel to the fire of his political ire.

Most all of us have the image of lanky Abraham Lincoln debating squat Stephen Douglas before the Civil War (there was a one-foot difference in their height, exaggerated by Lincoln’s hat).  Seven times the two engaged in a three-hour debate to help Illinois voters decide who they wanted to fill their senate seat.  Though the incumbent Douglas won, the publicity propelled Lincoln to the presidency in 1860.

Douglas was author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave settlers in new territories the right to decide whether to allow slavery.  He considered Lincoln a radical, who with the new Republican Party believed the country could not endure “half slave and half free.”

According to, both men were adamant about preserving the union, but differed in philosophy as to how it could be done.  Douglas died of typhoid fever in 1861, never knowing that his adversary would accomplish the goal.

I’ll bypass the Theodore Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson rivalry which transcended the 1912 election to World War 1, to talk about T.R. Jr. and his run-in with first cousin Eleanor.  Her husband, Franklin, was not a candidate for the New York governorship in 1924, but they supported Al Smith rather than Ted.  Franklin was critical of Ted’s performance as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Ted’s brother Archie was involved with the Sinclair Oil Company, which had been implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal about oil leases in the west.  Eleanor and her friends drove through the state in a car with a giant steam-emitting papier mache teapot on the roof and denounced her cousin over a loudspeaker.

Smith won and Ted continued in business ventures.  In World War II, though, he was once again a soldier on Utah Beach, on D-Day.  He suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after on the eve of a promotion to Brigadier General.

Amid upheavals there are always small victories, as shown by a favorite story of my aunt’s.  She worked in a senator’s office on Capitol Hill in 1948.  Her boss, angry that Truman had pulled off the presidency, refused to go to the inauguration and gave his tickets to her and her brother.  The two obscure twenty-something Indiana Republicans were ringside at the president’s swearing-in ceremony, much to the chagrin of prominent Democrats who wanted the seats.

Country Kitchen


Of the things in my kitchen, a basket which one of my grandmothers took to church suppers and a striped stoneware bowl my other grandmother used for mixing are my favorites.  They bring me closer to lives lived in the country.

I treasure memories of real country kitchens overseen by my aunts, where I got to spend time in the 1950s and 60s.  I don’t suppose there are many left: family farms (excepting those of the Amish) are a thing of the past.  People running modern conglomerates probably don’t have a dinner bell to welcome them to to a table weighed down with meals of garden vegetables, hot bread and homemade jam, and meat they’ve raised themselves.

My mother cooked like her sisters, but we lived in town where the environment was quite a bit different.  Usually there would be a large number of people when we were company at the relatives’ houses.  Kids ate at card tables while grown folks and babies were over at the big dining table expanded by leaves.  We listened in on storytelling that went on well beyond the time that the pie, with its sweetened apples or cherries enveloped in flaky, lard-laced crust, disappeared.


One of my uncles was a dairy farmer.  I remember the smell of milk separating in the room off the kitchen.  There were other smells, from boots left inside the back door, that weren’t so pleasant, but you had to have one to have the other.

And cleaning up after dinner?  No shiny, super-efficient dishwashers then.  Girls separated into washers and dryers (the boys must have been out chasing pigs or something).  I never could keep up with my cousins when I washed, so I usually dried.  When the counter filled up they’d help me.

A few weeks ago, a Sunday newspaper feature proclaimed the computer-friendly kitchen with the latest appliances and docking stations to be an “epicenter.”  I’d prefer it without docking stations.  I don’t care if I have a stainless steel refrigerator.  The real epicenter of a home, when food was grown just outside and its producers came in to a real dinner, was a country kitchen.


Never Forgotten

“These weren’t just names — they were family members,” says Lisa Ann Maynard in a touching documentary about her great uncle, Paul, who died in France on the day of the Armistice, November 11, 1918.

The American Battle Monuments Commission is responsible for this piece.  It is a striking compilation of primary sources: recordings, newsreels, photographs, and letters.  Though I’ve been searching for information about World War I for the past year and a half, I had not seen most of them.  Many thanks to fellow blogger Keith Muchowski for bringing this excellent 30-minute film to my attention.

My recently-finished manuscript also speaks of the common folks living in the era of World War I: farmers, schoolteachers and shopkeepers who were writing to soldiers who longed just to join them at home.

I too had a great uncle, Leo, who died in France late in the same war.  In fact, the week before his death, German commanders had told the Kaiser they could not win.  But he and his comrades followed orders.  A talented artist and newspaper cartoonist, Uncle Leo was sketching maps on the front lines.  For Sergeant Maynard and Corporal Porter, let’s remember the price paid for our freedom.  They and many others are never forgotten.


Leo Ross Porter, World War I soldier from Angola, Indiana 

From Our Century to Yours

My fingers are pleased by the embossed ridges of the two-dimensional card.  Its reds, greens and golds are still bright.  “A Christmas Greeting” is printed beneath a snow-covered country scene framed by a wreath, bow and holly leaves.

On the other side is a one-cent stamp and postmark: Warsaw, Ind. 9 a.m., December 2, 1910.  It is addressed to my grandmother at her home in Syracuse, and signed by “A Friend – Z.A.”  I can imagine girlhood laughter between the eighteen year-old and her chum.  They may have gotten together for a sleighing (bob) party in the wintry woods.

According to, this one would fall into the golden era of Victorian postcards, 1898-1918.  The most collectible of these show St. Nicholas in colors other than red.  One German artist made mechanical cards with movable puppets, and there were also “Hold-to-Light” cards, in which Santa popped out of a chimney when held up to the light –  probably powered by candle, kerosene or gas.

Getting ready to write your annual Christmas letter, place an order for photocards, stick on personalized address labels?  Or maybe even cyberpaste some pictures on a funny dancing JibJab e-card?  The media has changed, but the sentiment hasn’t.  It is the season for letting others know we care and think about them, even if they’re a grandma we got to meet only in stories, photographs, and letters saved.



Thanksgiving in Training Camp

It was a menu much like one we’ll all have this week.  Cooks in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, were serving up roast turkey, mashed potatoes, celery, pickles, and pie.  But the soldiers on the other side of the table 98 years ago were wondering where they would celebrate the next holiday, or if they’d still be alive, after going across the pond to help the Allies in battle.

One troop, my grandfather, wrote to his sweetheart from Camp Shelby.  Besides a quick review of the food, he told her of horseback training, officer’s school, and a football game he and his buddies had been to that afternoon between the teams of Indiana University and Army.  It was “hard-fought from start to finish.”



The 25-year old captain would write often and receive many more letters himself at the southern town, so different from his Indiana farm home.  He traveled to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery school; and Camp Mills, Long Island, with his division, bound for France.  But then, to his disappointment, he was called back to Mississippi to help train a development battalion.


After the war’s end he mustered out of the army, returning to the life of a farmer, married his sweetheart, and raised a family.  Today he would be proud of his grandson who graduated from West Point, and great-grandson who finished four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let us all be thankful for each soldier, retired, in training, or in active duty, who represents America on our behalf.

Old Time Cooking

The first electric range was introduced in 1914, around the time my grandparents were introduced to each other.  World War 1 was “modernizing” civilization across the Atlantic, but in most homes cooking was still done over and inside of a wood-burning stove.  You split and chopped wood for it, and what was life if not getting fuel for free with a little extra labor?  Of course, it wasn’t a little.  The trade-off was that their work resulted in delicious meals the likes of which we will never see, smell or taste.  We can only imagine the culinary artistry perfected by spending years in old kitchens, steamy in summer and drafty in winter.

Recipe (often spelled receipt) language was different because our ancestors’ life experiences were different than ours — closer to earth, simpler to plan, more familiar from field and garden to the table.  Here are some receipts which are offered on the internet: gleaned from published books, magazines, and newspaper clippings.  Run-on sentences did not bother the cooks, apparently.  Most libraries have collections of old cookbooks which are equally fascinating.

Fried Chicken                                                                                                                                           Take one young spring chicken.  Cut it in pieces, salt it, have nice, fresh lard well heated; flour every piece separate, then put into the boiling lard and cook to a nice crispy brown; drain off the fat for gravy except just a little, add one tablespoon of flour and one cup of sweet milk, add salt and pepper to taste.  You will have a nice, brown cream gravy.  Biscuits to serve with the creamy gravy.  One pint of flour, one teaspoon of baking powder, one tablespoon of nice, sweet lard or butter and a pinch of salt, add just enough sweet milk to make a soft dough.  Bake quickly and you will find them delicious.  (

Mashed Carrots                                                                                                                                   Carrots boiled and mashed and warmed with butter, pepper and salt deserve to be known. Scrape and boil whole until tender. Drain, and cut into round slices a quarter of an inch thick. Warm a cup of broth, add three or four tablespoons of milk, a lump of butter rolled in flour, with seasoning to taste. Bring to a boil and pour over carrots.  Continue reading “Old Time Cooking”